The human species being stunningly fallible, it's surely unrealistic to expect any man or woman to live up to each and every rule on a list that runs to 14 pages. But if you are the one who concocted the list in the first place, you've no one to blame but yourself when your critics start taking you out behind the woodshed for a thrashing.
So it is with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his famous compilation of "Rumsfeld's Rules," which, by my count, end at number 156 with the admonition: "If you develop rules, never have more than 10." I have to assume the Secretary was poking a bit of fun at himself with that last one.
Even with the welcome demise of Abu Musab al Zarqari, there is still no end in sight to the daily violence directed at American men and women and Iraqi citizens, few of us are in a lighthearted mood these days. And I am amazed at our low standing in the rest of the world as evidenced in the latest surveys published last week. Ronald Reagan used to say that he wanted to be feared and revered. I find it incomprehensible that we have now put ourselves in a position to be hated and despised by people in other countries, especially after 9/11, which caused the rest of the world to rally behind us. More and more people in and out of the military, and from both ends of the political spectrum, are questioning Rumsfeld's leadership and his responsibility for the difficult situation we face in Iraq.
Reading through Rumsfeld's list, I was struck by one rule in particular that, had it been followed, might just have prevented us from making the mistakes we've made in Iraq: "It is easier to get into something than to get out of it." That is especially true of the U.S. Army. We still have troops in Korea after more than 50 years. We still have troops in Bosnia after 11 years. Bet you didn't know that we still have troops in the Sinai Desert as a result of the Camp David Peace Accords signed in 1979. Critics claim that it was easy to go into Iraq because the Pentagon leadership didn't devise a coherent post-Saddam strategy -- and now the lack of one makes it very hard to leave. Dismissing or ignoring advice to the contrary, it is plainly obvious that Rumsfeld and his staff failed to plan for "what if" scenarios if the rosy scenario failed to materialize.
Charges of poor planning have rained fast and furious from a slew of retired officers, most notably Major General John Batiste, a former commander in Iraq. I have first hand knowledge of General Batiste's professionalism having him watched lead an Army Brigade into Bosnia back in 1995. I found him to be extraordinarily professional and very savvy, and I was in awe of his leadership skills. I pegged him back then as being destined to get selected for General. I have always viewed, with suspicion, Admirals and Generals who find the courage to stand up and speak their minds only after they have safely retired. General Batiste is different in that he actually turned down a third star and ended his career as a matter of principle, because he felt so strongly about our missteps in Iraq. Batiste claims that everything from the abuses at Abu Ghraib to the lack of proper armor for the troops to the latest alleged atrocity at Haditha is the result of poor war planning and naïve assumptions.
In scanning Rumsfeld's list, I concluded that he had left off what I consider to be the most important rule of real leadership: knowing when to stand up and be held accountable. In the Navy for a ship Captain, it's easy. You are singularly accountable for everything that goes on in your command, PERIOD. As the captain of Benfold, I knew that if we ran aground, had a collision or if I tolerated and condoned an abusive climate, I would be relieved of command. It is an honorable and time tested tradition in the Navy that has served our it well for over 200 years.
My question for you is should the concept of ultimate accountability be rule # 157 on Mr. Rumsfeld's list?
Captain D. Michael Abrashoff is a popular speaker author of The New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller It's Your Ship -- Management Techniques From the Best Damned Ship in the Navy, The Wall Street Journal bestseller Get Your Ship Together -- How Great Leaders Inspire Ownership From the Keel Up, and the seminal Harvard Business Review article "Retention Through Redemption."